October in Ocean City, Maryland. We call it the “second season.” The beaches have cleared of summer crowds, the weather is beautiful, the water is still warm from the summer sun and surfers get theirs in the form of hurricane swell. The first wave of crisp autumn air has come and the official change of seasons signals the end of summer. To me this brings a natural time of reflection.
This was a big year for ultimate down here on the shore. What began as a grass pickup game among friends has grown into… an actual league! Just 2 years ago we struggled to get 7 on 7 one day a week, now we have 2 grass pickup games (Berlin and Salisbury, MD), and 2 league games (OC Beach Ultimate and Berlin Fall League) supported by over 40 players. They can even pick and choose their games: some only play grass, others devoted to the beach, some play all 3 days a week.
There just wasn’t an ultimate scene here in years past outside of the existing men’s and women’s teams at Salisbury University. After graduation I continued to live at the beach as a lifeguard and found a local pickup game to play ultimate. I was living, working, and training at the beach with my good friend and fellow bro Tim Morrill and getting really into beach ultimate. We designed a specific training block to prepare for Wildwood 2013 with our beach ultimate team Humiliswag.
Beach ultimate is just plain fun! Its a great chance to play, competitively or not, where the focus is primarily on fun and spirit of the game. The sun, sand, ocean waves, flying discs, and soft cushy layouts: if you’re at the beach with your friends playing ultimate, its nearly impossible to have a bad time. The more we trained in beautiful Ocean City and traveled to other beach tournaments, I realized we didn’t have to go very far for a perfect beach ultimate venue. What I had was an opportunity to bring the sport here, to share a game I love with people who didn’t yet know how awesome it was.
If You Build It, They Will Come
With grass games established, we started beach pickup games at the end of summer 2013 more so as an experiment to see if anyone would actually come play. I had spent 2 summers teaching people the ins and outs of grass ultimate, now I was really going to freak people out by completely changing the location and format by introducing beach ultimate. The results of that unofficial first season were encouraging. We had 24 people out and played 2 games of 4v4! Overall, people loved the rules changes of inverted pulls, and especially the 2 point play. The shortened stall count gave people fits at first, as many of them are still perfecting their pivots and releases. It may not seem like a huge accomplishment to some, but this was literally the first ever round robin of beach ultimate in this town and continued a few weeks into the fall.
Enter 2014. I didn’t want our game to remain hidden anymore solely amongst the players. They were ready for a legit beach ultimate summer league and tournament. I knew we had an incredible location, great sand to run and layout on, now it was time to build.
To reach out and spread awareness of our existence I created the facebook page Ocean City Beach Ultimate and later the website ocbeachultimate.com. This was a simple way to get everyone information on when and where games were. I posted an album from the previous summer’s experimental game to draw more attention. We planned the first official OCBU summer league which took place over 8 weeks from June 5 to July 24. The local players immediately signed up and showed their stoke and support.
Beyond our own community of players, I was surprised by the response from far away places. I got emails from college players around the region, a good response from outside our network. Then I was contacted by 2 Lithuanians, a Turk, and a Mexican ultimate player. I hadn’t thought about the many international students who come to live and work in OC for the summer, and at this I knew something very special was happening. I wrote this piece earlier this summer on the international players who became part of the OCBU family. Adding to that list we had 2 former Salisbury University players come through visiting from Singapore and Latvia respectively. There was a global presence at OCBU!
OC is a seasonal and transient town and I knew that there had to be ultimate players coming and going for vacations or conventions. The key was catching them while they were in town. I loved the idea that people could be on vacation and still have a game available. We had college players drop in from WVU, UMD, and IUP in Pennsylvania. One player was walking down the boardwalk and discovered our game by accident, others knew there was a game before they came on vacation. Club players from around Maryland came to join in on the action fairly regularly, and even some of Boston’s Elite from Ironside and the women’s team Brute Squad came to lay out in Downtown OC. At the conclusion of the 8 week season, we had 28 league members and 22 club and college drop ins. While this pales in comparison to a major city league, its a great beginning to something that did not exist here 1 year ago.
I have been playing at the Mecca of Beach Ultimate, Wildwood, for 9 years. I love it. Everyone loves it. Everyone goes. People go because it is in many ways the ultimate reunion. For East Coasters, everyone you’ve ever played with or against will be there. I think people also go because it is the only beach tournament around. I wanted there to be more tournaments, more opportunities for everyone to play beach ultimate, and especially create a more competitive environment in beach ultimate.
August 9-10, 2014 we hosted the FIRST EVER ultimate tournament in Ocean City, the OC Beach Classic. Over 120 players on 11 teams participated in the two-day BULA sanctioned event. Several Maryland-based teams were represented with other squads coming from New Jersey, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. The Boracay Dragons won the inaugural title after beating Humiliswag 15-12.
I hosted The Dragons for 2 weeks during their US Tour which included 3 team practices in OC and Assateague, and a couple friendly matches against the top OCBU players. “The sand is the nicest here. This is a real beach,” Dragons Coach Wendell Simbulan praised. This is coming from a team that has played all over the WORLD!
Words cannot fully express how huge the first year of this tournament was. The Town Council of OC was 100% supportive and was excited to not only be introduced to ultimate, but to see a new event in town after years of the same car fests, bike fests, beer fests, and sunfests. Local businesses were happy to be involved as we secured a hotel sponsorship directly in-front of the playing fields, a local brewery that’s walking distance to everything, and a tournament party at a waterfront club directly on the Assawoman Bay (yes, thats the real name). Several boardwalk businesses provided other tournament necessities to ensure a successful weekend.
From the players perspective, every team had a blast and told me they’d be back and bring other teams along with them. For my band of locals this was their first tournament! They saw that they were a part of something greater, a larger community of cool people who share the same passion for chucking a disc to friends, having fun, and jumping in the ocean after games.
Throughout the tournament, non-ultimate people were shocked and very stoked to see beach ultimate in action. Saturdays showcase game was played in front of about 300 people, all boardwalk passersby, with the rest of the teams enjoying some craft beers and cheering from the hotel balcony. I regularly saw people asking a player “what is this?” and that player explaining in a very professional and respectable manner: its beach ultimate. Thank you to the teams who believed in this tournament, played as hard as you did, and made the plays you did. It was personally a dream come true, and great for our sport.
The most rewarding part of this growth is the handful of locals who started playing ultimate here at OCBU. We were lucky enough to introduce the sport to several high schoolers, and even some post-college folks who are now hooked. I never thought I’d see the day when a college ultimate player will tell his/her teammates “I started playing at OCBU.” Our game which began as a bunch of ultimate transplants is now beginning our second generation of grassroots players.
On October 2nd a couple of us gathered for the weekly Thursday OCBU pickup game which fell short of numbers: only 4 people. This was a bummer, but as we threw we were greeted by a massive arching double rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean. Looking up at this masterpiece I realized we had played beach ultimate every Thursday from June 5 to September 25: 2 months of league and 2 months of pickup, and this rainbow signaled the end of the 2014 beach ulti season. In one year we established a strictly beach ultimate summer league, a rarity in the grand scheme, and a successful tournament that was supported by the community. Wow, Ocean City is an ultimate town! I remembered every player that had come from far corners of the globe to the beach in Downtown OC knowing they had a game of ultimate here. I wondered who we would meet next summer. I wonder what next year’s “4 months” will look like.